Review: Dance Umbrella: Fabian Barba/Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion
Fabian Barba A Mary Wigman Dance Evening
Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece
German dancer and choreographer Mary Wigman’s name might not be as instantly recognisable as that of the great American icons Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, but her pioneering work in Ausdrucktanz laid the foundations for many developments in 20th century dance and retains a curious splendour today. Ecuadorian dance artist Fabian Barba began recreating Wigman’s solos in 2009, and since then has toured the world with his award-winning A Mary Wigman Dance Evening .
The piece is based on Wigman’s first tour of the US in 1930, and is performed in a cabaret setting with chandeliers hanging over the audience and a swishing red stage curtain dividing us from the performer. Barba appears in female costume but not in drag – legs unshaven and with a hairy male torso, he enacts Wigman’s simple stepping patterns and delicate oriental hand gestures. For the duration of the performance, Barba completely inhabits her persona, with rhythmic flicks of the wrist and taps to the head, sweeps of the leg that animate the long, fluid costumes, and a set of serene-yet-earnest facial expressions that appear authentically Teutonic.
On the one hand, it’s fascinating to experience Wigman’s short, beautifully simple solos that appear alien in comparison to today’s text-heavy, high-kicking stage works. There’s something of Duncan’s oriental interest to Wigman’s work, with hands circling in prayer position or extending into an archer’s pose, hands scissoring rapidly and hips shifting belly-dancer style.
At the same time, Barba’s re-creation from Wigman’s notes and photographs comments on the enactment of a feminine persona; the costumes, gestures and facial mannerisms are Wigman’s own, but Barba inhabits them completely. It’s interesting to note that Wigman’s strong arm shapes and bestial pacing suit Barba absolutely, throwing the question of how we expect a male (or a female) performer to move into relief. A Mary Wigman Dance Evening began life as an academic study during Barba’s training, but has developed into a thoughtful and absorbing stage work that extends beyond mere historical enactment into living, breathing creation.
Academic in a completely different way, Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion’s 2009 duet Cheap Lecture is a 30-minute manifesto for the pair’s unique combination of music, performance art and avant-garde dance. Containing very little in the way of movement, the duet pays tribute to John Cage’s 1959 Lecture on Nothing, and borrows its title and rhythmical structure from Cage’s “Cheap Imitation” of Satie.
To describe what happens in Cheap Lecture is to rob it of both its profundity and its utter hilarity, but as Burrows says we must try our best (maximum effort) so here goes: words are read in solo and unison, some appear on the projector screen behind the performers, papers flutter to the floor as the script is discarded by the readers; recorded music (commissioned for Schubert’s own piano) is played, and the sense of the words is constantly distorted by the rhythms in which they are read. Fargion and Burrows apologise for being out of breath and out of practice, and for the awfulness of performances (perhaps including their own) which audiences are sometimes forced to endure. The lecture itself is by turns fascinating, thought-provoking and riotously funny.
Cheap Lecture continues, without a break, into The Cow Piece, a bizarre work for the duo and twelve small plastic cows which is, in every sense of the word, mental. Mental in the sense of highly cerebral – the piece follows the same borrowed rhythmical structure outlined in Cheap Lecture, and is made up of complex patterns of movement, music and apparently random speaking which together balance on the knife-edge of going horribly wrong at any moment. It’s also mental in the sense of chaotic, absurd, gloriously bonkers. Cows serenade one another, become involved in debates, change places with dizzying complexity, and end up on the floor following an unprovoked attack by Fargion. As with all the best comedy, there’s a serious point at the heart of the work about the nature of composition and performance; intellectual though Burrows and Fargion’s work is, The Cow Piece mostly left the audience crying with laughter.
Dance Umbrella continues until Sunday 14 October:
Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher, as well as a regular contributor to londondance.com & Arts Professional
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